Possibly the TABs have a better idea but they don’t let out much information anyway. Their actions indicate they are more concerned with watching what their competitors do than whether they are keeping customers happy – setting up Fixed Odds and bookmaking companies, for example. (For pre-1989 travellers, this brings back memories of the Two-Airline Policy, where Ansett and TAA squabbled over who had 49% or 51% of the business and customers paid through the nose).
Much the same goes for NT bookmakers and Betfair, although they require pre-registration details from customers and would therefore have a few more clues.
The upshot is that if we don’t know who our customers are we will not know how they are changing as time goes on. And they have changed, for sure.
Let’s try to work out what they are doing. Some of these comments are educated guesses, of course, but feel free to write to the editor if you have better information.
1. First and foremost, since there has been a radical decline in racecourse attendances, it follows that there must be a comparable decline in the average customer’s knowledge of racing.
2. From personal observation, that same customer is less able, or less willing, to read a formguide – even the ones pinned up on the wall near him. Sales of proper formguides are down anyway. Online formguides, all offered by state authorities except for subscribers to National Tabform, may well get lots of hits but whether they are used, and how, is a mystery.
3. Further proof of the formguide quandary is available if you consider that the NSW format (now including SA and Tasmania races) offers a 35 page version for a 10-race program. It is hard to believe that anyone bothers to print out all 35 pages. It contains far too much information, it simply is not user-friendly and can hardly be stuck in your back pocket. (This design emerged when GRNSW outsourced the job to a crowd that did not understand the task – something I know because I and some colleagues were on the list of people surveyed by them).
4. Over the last 20 years, betting trends in all codes have moved away from Win to the exotics where seemingly more attractive rewards are available. This might be termed the “Lottery” influence.
5. TABs have progressively introduced and pushed auto-bet options such as Mystery bets where the customer does not have to think. Effectively, he is playing a four-legged poker machine, just as he is with the Trackside program, sitting side by side with the normal TAB screens. (Outlets were bribed to install Trackside because it provides higher commission rates).
6. Tipsters abound amongst the media and some authorities, all rarely successful, offering lots of Boxed Bets where you are destined to lose before you start – as is true of Mysteries. Anyone with basic arithmetic ability would be able to work this out – but, obviously, they don’t.
7. The greyhound code suffers particularly from over-bet favourites, a function of follow-the-leader habits. Still, a high crash rate for odds-on favourites is common to all codes.
8. The majority of TAB betting pools are too small to offer any integrity or to absorb decent bets. This would be a significant factor in the growth of NT bookmaker business or, to a lesser extent, the TAB’s own Fixed Odds business.
9. Greyhound takings are generally creeping up but as a function of crook races – ie those with low quality dogs. State authorities are quick to grab any slots made available by TABs and SKY and then manufacture fields to fill them. Since the dog population is not increasing, these starters can come only from the bottom of the barrel.
10. There has been relatively little attention paid to improving track layouts, with the result that interference levels remain high and are a deterrent to the introduction of fresh big-spending punters. They will not be interested in events where the house effectively wipes 10% or so off the top before you start.
11. Outside the influence of racing organisations, there is an alarming trend for licensed clubs to fail, or to merge with larger clubs. In any case few of these would make profits from their TAB turnover. The same clubs are under regular pressure from anti-gambling lobbies and increased government charges.
My summary is that all this adds up to this:
(A) My guess would be that the source of betting might be split up into 55% mug gamblers, who are going to become more prominent, 40% insiders (ie owners and trainers) who are being tempted to move across to NT bookies which now account for $1 in every $5, and 5% genuine punters.
(B) Traditional sources of betting growth are fragile at best, particularly as they rely mostly on business from mug gamblers.
(C) Without more detailed knowledge of industry customers and their habits, efforts to mount marketing programs would be difficult if not impossible (assuming they existed in the first place).
Why is this happening? Well here’s a clue.
“State-owned enterprises rule the roost. But their monopolistic hold is proving detrimental in certain sectors, and has enriched many officials. Dealing with vested interests will prove the biggest challenge in reforming the sector”.
That’s a re-written quote from the Sydney Morning Herald of December 29. No, it’s not about racing, but it could be. Actually, it’s one of several matters under the heading of “Greatest Challenges Facing China in 2013”.